Sunday, February 5, 2012
Pit Talk: To dunk or not to dunk, that is the question
Posse pitmaster Marshall Cooper says the practice, known as dunking, isn’t new. It’s something that many cooks, including those who take part in professional barbecue cookoffs, have used for years as a way to keep meats moist and juicy.
But it’s no substitute for proper smoking techniques – all the dunking in the world won’t rescue a poorly cooked piece of meat.
And it’s probably not something that your dietitian or cardiologist would recommend.
Several people, including a few BBQ joint owners, have recently asked me what’s up with some of the best Central Texas joints ‘dunking meats in grease.’ Many people seem intrigued and mystified by this, as if it’s the hidden flippin’ secret to making good BBQ.
For years, I’ve heard of BBQ joints using beef broth to hydrate dry brisket. And in BBQ competitions, it’s typical – and perfectly legal – for pitmasters to use beef broth, marinades, sprays and injections as part of their ways of making award-winning BBQ.
While touring in Central Texas not long ago, we stopped at City Meat Market in Giddings and witnessed the process firsthand. While standing in line to order, we saw owner Gerald Birkelbach use a chef’s fork to take big hunks of meat out of large pots of liquid on the stove. He’s slice off a serving, then drop the meat back into the pot – all out in the open, no secret.
Later, when a waitress offered Chris Wilkins and me a tour of the pits and kitchen, I made a beeline over to the pots, to see what the liquid in them was. To me, it looked like basic au jus, made from the drippings of the cooked meats. Gerald confirmed this, saying he held his meats in a watered-down au jus, making sure that the gas burner on the stove kept things at the the right temperature. It all looked perfectly fine to me.
On another tour, Chris, Jim Rossman and I were at Franklin Barbecue in Austin and saw the sliced turkey go for dip in a pot of what looked like a butter bath before it was put on the customer’s plate – again, all done out in the open, no secret.
And when Jim, my son Mark, and I sampled several meats at Louis Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, even though I did not see any dunking, I suspected that their meats, too, had been held in some sort of au jus, only much richer – you know, greasier.
So what's the big deal? It seems to me to be a good way for BBQ joints to prevent meats from drying out – certainly an acceptable alternative to a warmer oven or steamer. I guess you have to assume that dunking will knock any rub off the outside of the meat, but by that time, most of the flavor of the rub should have been rendered into the meat.
The drawback for some could be the added calories – lots of added calories. I think oils and grease drippings contain about 100 calories per tablespoon. So you may want to factor in an additional 800 to 1,000 calories – or 20-plus Weight Watcher points – the next time you eat dunked BBQ. And I can’t imagine how many saturated fat grams or milligrams of cholesterol are involved. (For dieters, it probably defeats the purpose of ordering the turkey instead of brisket, sausage or ribs…)
It’s probably best not to think about that. Au jus tastes good. People love it. (It’s sometimes added to BBQ sauce, too.) Dunking won’t transform a crappy piece of meat into a great one, but it sure as hell can make an average piece taste damned good.
Photo of dunking at City Meat Market in Giddings by Guy Reynolds/Texas BBQ Posse